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Advocates keep awareness in the forefront

Date: 8/24/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW - The odds of winning the United States Open are one in one billion, according to Autism Speaks, and the odds of being diagnosed with autism are of far greater standing at one in 150.

Increasing odds have produced a louder call for action, making Autism Speaks the largest advocacy organization in the country with over 80 fundraising walks in North America. The 2009 Walk Now for Autism Western New England will include over 2,500 people on Sept. 26 at Stanley Park in Westfield.

East Longmeadow resident Radcliffe Kenison, a father of two boys with autism, also chair of the 2009 Walk Now for Autism Western New England, said this event is not solely about fundraising for a cure but also about raising awareness and understanding of those with the disorder.

"The boys are making progress but basically my family and my close friends don't understand [what life is like for us]," he explained, adding that round-the-clock care is necessary for his sons. "Sleep is for the weak."

"[But] I wouldn't give them up for millions of dollars," Kenison continued. "I don't love them any less because they have autism. You're never given anything you can't handle. I just hope they live a happy life."

He added that Walk organizers are hoping to exceed 3,000 participants this year and break fundraising expectations. Kenison noted that his team alone raised $27,000 last year, making them the top fundraising team three years running.

"We always try to push the envelope and get an additional 20 percent [of walkers each year]," Don Goehring, logistics chair for the 2009 Walk Now for Autism Western New England, said. "There's never enough money out there for research. We know the economy will play a factor in fundraising [totals this year] . every penny, nickel, dime - whatever you can give us helps [the cause]."

Thomas Yvon, Subway franchisee and Walk donor, said despite the recession, he and other franchisees have been able to maintain their annual contribution to the cause. He noted that one year, he and three other franchisees were forced to make the donation from their own pockets.

"It's been increasingly difficult to get things done [with company money]," Yvon explained. "In my own opinion, as long as we can do it, we will."

Dawn Nooney, owner of renew.calm in West Springfield, agreed, adding that her company continues to offer complimentary spa services as fundraising incentives for their clients. She noted that her company raises several hundred dollars for the Walk each year.

Kenison said walkers who raise over $1,000 this year will be offered a new perk: membership into The Grand Club, a VIP tent filled with donated goodies. "This is a huge incentive [for walkers] and a huge thank you," he added.

In-person registration for the 2009 Walk Now for Autism Western New England will take place one hour prior to the walk at 9 a.m. Registration forms are also available at